Some professors of Fort Lewis faculty support the idea of issuing mandatory courses that inform FLC students, faculty and staff about their culture while exploring a history that accurately portrays indigenous people.
Deanne Grant, visiting instructor of sociology, said that a basic Native American history should be implemented at Fort Lewis so that teachers and students are aware of the history surrounding Native American culture at Fort Lewis.
Grant said these Native American history electives should be mandatory, not optional.
Jennifer Gehrman, professor of English and chairman of the English department, agrees that FLC should implement these mandatory courses so that people can learn about the effect of history told from the settler colonial perspective.
She said she is in support of the land acknowledgement statement in the syllabus but wants to address the inequalities of the past and present so that everyone can all move forward together.
In her syllabus she states that she thinks it is important to provide acknowledgement of La Plata County and the Indigenous Peoples who lived on this land before it was Fort Lewis College.
“Because we are an institution of higher learning, it's incumbent upon everyone who lives here to know where we are and what that means,” she said. “How did each of us come to be here?”
Gehrman said that she believes there is a lot of misunderstanding, particularly among non-Native American students and about Native Americans in general, so it is the educators’ job to fix that.
“Ignorance is part of privilege sometimes, it's not ill-will,” she said. “When we live with the privilege that white people have as a result of settler colonialism, it becomes really hard to unmask.”
Gehrman said that settler colonial perspective can be overlooked because non-Native Americans may not consider it in their daily lives.
Putting white people at the center and everyone else at the periphery is an example of a settler colonial mindset and this requires work, so she capitalizes on The Mellon Grant, which allows the department to purchase books and offers a small stipend for reading groups, Gerhman said.
Gerhman’s group is reading the book, Land Based Education, which looks at different teaching methods for educators, she said.
“The way we frame the educational experience of our students is sometimes grounded in an assumption of Euro-American mindset as the base-line,” she said.
Gehrman said that people in her reading group are taking actions in preventing an embedded mindset through settler colonialism, realizing that other perspectives are equally important and ultimately learning things they did not know before.
She said we should strive to understand Native American students and their culture, as well as non-native students, to live in a country founded on settler colonialism without interrogating the sources of the inequities that we see, or choose not to see, around us.
“A lot of faculty probably have the same ideas because a lot of us are participating in these study groups for the Mellon Grant,” she said.
She thinks that a mandatory course is a good idea for a first-year experience, or something akin to those first-year launch courses, so that students start off with a sense of purpose and understanding of where they are and why they are here.
Benjamin Wadell, associate professor of sociology, said FLC should have a class that very clearly outlines the diversity on campus and the historic importance of its mission.
FLC is at forty-one percent for Native American enrollment for the 2019-20 semester, says Simon Chief, Assistant Director for the Native American Center.
Wadell said he grew up in the Durango area and attended FLC, but knew very little about Native American history in the area and felt that he never really got into the depth and diversity as a student at FLC.
Wadell said that he feels like he has had the opportunity to learn more about diversity as a result of his relationship with students as a professor.
“We’re a unique college with a unique history,” he said. “We have a Native American tuition waiver for a reason, and a good reason, and so I think all students should understand that.”
Don May, professor of engineering and Chairman of the Curriculum Committee, said that mandatory courses are important because majors have a limited number of credits to offer.
The discussion of curriculum adaptability would have to happen long before anyone submitted anything to the curriculum committee, because people would have to make room for it in their curriculum, he said.
If you are a faculty member and you want to create or change a course, then you have to fill out a course proposal form, he said.
May said that the form asks for their justification for the changes.
“That form gets submitted where it is then routed around to a bunch of different people,” he said. “The first person it goes to is the department chair and they have to approve it,”
Then it goes to the registrar’s office, May said.
“The registrar looks at it to do an impact statement, or study, on that proposal to make sure what they are doing isn’t going to impact other people,” he said.
May said that the registrar wants to know the need of the course and how often they are going to offer it, making sure it is for the benefit of the student.
The registrar also makes sure it fits in with their schedule and what is going to be covered in that course is reasonable.
The Curriculum Committee is the faculty’s point of contact with any proposed course or changed course, he said.
The Curriculum Committee is a group of seven faculty members that look at any proposed curriculum change and approve, or do not approve the proposed change, May said.
“We debate that and then we either approve it or deny it,” he said. “Ours is a recommendation.”
That recommendation goes to the Faculty Senate, the Faculty Senate either agrees on the recommendation or disagrees, he said.
Then that goes to the Provost, who is the last signature in this general process, he said.
Another issue is accreditation, because outside organizations that accredit the FLC program have very strict rules about the number and area of courses in which they teach, May said.
May said that the department has to make sure however they implement it, that it does not jeopardize the accreditation.